After 15 hours on a bus to Udon Thani, then another bus to Nong Khai (about an hour or so), then a tuk tuk to the border, a border exit, a bus to the next border crossing entry point, entry at the Lao border and another tuk tuk we arrived in Vientiane and met Dre’s dad Tom’s friends Garry and Suni. We had lunch with them and after a few hours of chatting and formulating a plan of action for the following day, we set out to find somewhere to sleep. This time thankfully we have stayed in a much nicer area of Vientiane than last time, near the Mekong and the main temples and cafes. Vientiane is still really hot, dusty, and congested with traffic, but we are pleased to say that with Garry and Suni’s guidance we have managed to enjoy aspects of this city this time. We have really enjoyed their company also – it’s amazing to us (but not surprising) how much like Tom and Lili they are, such kind people wanting to do anything and everything to make our stay more comfortable and enjoyable and always giving helpful advice.
We had tentatively planned to head south to finally see southern Laos – and we still could if we wanted a really whirlwind tour – but with the visa process taking a few more days than expected (or perhaps more truthfully it was partly expected, since we are in Laos!), we’ve decided that instead of rushing to see the south and missing half of it, we will once again not go there yet. Instead we will head north and see some of the northern parts of Laos that we haven’t seen yet, as well as probably a few that we have, and have time to have a more leisurely break before meeting Dre’s sister Kate in Luang Namtha. We might have to come back to Vientiane again anyway in a couple of weeks to collect the visa, so perhaps we will have time then to see the South. Ironically we would have had plenty of time if we had have left Luang Namtha when we had intended to instead of staying for the Buddhist Lent celebrations; but no regrets there. So tonight we board yet another night bus, and head for Phonsovan to see the Plain of Jars. Our photos of our time in Vientiane are here.
It took us 2 attempts to leave Laos this time. Our first attempt was interrupted when we got to the train station in Vientiane – we had decided to get the train to Bangkok and then to Chiang Mai and then the bus to Chiang Rai – only to be told that the flooding in Thailand was so bad that the trains weren’t running. Flooding in Thailand? The complete absense of TV or checking any news websites had left us oblivious to the fact that 20 people have died in Thailand and Cambodia because of the worst flooding in 15 years – and with more rain forecast and water running into the lowlands from the hills, they were predicting the flooding would get a lot worse before it got better. So what to do? We could either cross the border and figure it out once we got to Thailand, or go back to Ben and Christerine’s house and use the time there to do some research on the internet about the flood affected areas and make a plan from there. Since a 14 hour bus ride to Chiang Rai from the Thai border sounded very unappealing, we opted to accept Ben and Christerine’s kind offer to stay the night at their house so we could figure out what to do next.
We decided to get a bus from Vientiane to Udon Thani in Thailand, and then change buses to Phitsanulok, and then depending on timing, change buses again and go to Sukhothai, an area in Thailand that we both wanted to see anyway and a good mid-point to stop off on the way to Chiang Rai. As it turned out, we didn’t get to Phitsanulok until 1.30am so opted to stay the night here. Once here we realised it’s quite a nice place, and so we’ve decided to stay another day or two here before going to Sukhothai.
So far the ultimate highlight has been just being able to wander around the streets without being covered head to toe in dust, many trees around, and general green-ness which is a welcome relief from Vientiane. Laos was the most awesome country of the trip so far but we are definitely not sad to have left dusty Vientiane. We found some ruins just on our street and spent some time soaking up the joy of just being able to be outside without melting from oppresive heat and being covered in dust. We even got to see the most beautiful rain storm we have ever seen… yay for Thailand! We love this country. Our photos are here.
We arrived in Vientiane a day or two before our Lao visa’s ran out, so our first task was to go to Thailand for the day and renew our visa’s. It worked out well because we got to go to an actual supermarket (we now realise how we have missed supermarkets and normal stuff in Laos!) and buy some basic supplies like toothpaste etc, and then return to Vientiane.
A couple of days before we left Luang Prabang we randomly met a couple of guys who had riden dirt bikes from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. We ended up going to dinner with these guys and after talking for hours, ended up agreeing to visit Ben in Vientiane, where he lives with his wife and daughter, after his brother (who was his dirt bike riding companion) had finished his holiday with them.
So, we found ourselves in Vientiane with one of the coolest guys we had met on this trip, and spent the following 10 days hanging out with him, his wife Christerine and their daughter Ashley. We quicky realised that we are meant to be here to see these guys, they have made such an awesome positive impact on our lives and we think we will end up being friends for a long time. We also got to catch up with Eric and Emma again and had dinner before our goodbyes for Lao and hopes to catch up again in Vietnam or elsewhere.
If it wasn’t for Ben and Christerine, we probably would have left Vientiane a day or two after we arrived, because it is a dirty, dusty, hot city with not really any redeeming features. (We haven’t really taken any photos here because there isn’t much that inspires us or is photo-worthy.) The definite highlight of Vientiane has been going to Christerine’s favourite, awesome massage place and getting full body massages – pure bliss. We initially planned to hang out with Ben and Christerine until the end of Oct when they were going to go to Thailand… we soon realised though that we couldn’t stand being in Vientiane for that long. So when we decided that we couldn’t take the dust and opressiveness of Vientiane anymore, we told Ben and Christerine we had to get out of there. They then invited us to spend the following month with them in Chiang Rai, where they have now rented a huge 2-storey house for us all to stay in.
So… instead of going to Vietnam next we have decided to spend at least part of the next month with them in Chiang Rai. So back to Thailand we go… for the 3rd time so far in this trip.